Formidable Form Will Stand To Ulster
Second placed Munster travel to the Kingspan Stadium on Saturday where they face Ulster who lie just a point behind in third place on the Guinness Pro12 table.
Munster have lacked consistency for most of the Pro12 season, but have stayed in touch with the leading teams throughout and a late season surge has given them a chance of topping the table. They’ve won four out of their last five and go into this game in second place, just two points behind Glasgow, having beaten Edinburgh, Connacht and Treviso in their last three outings.
Ulster’s form is also strong going into this game. Although they suffered a notable defeat to Zebre in the autumn, they have improved as the season has gone on,
and their victory over Connacht on St. Stephen’s Day was the start of a run of eight victories in ten games, culminating in last weekend’s 26-10 win over Leinster,
which leaves them just one point behind Munster in the Pro12 table.
Ruan Pienaar was wearing a protective boot at the Ulster Rugby Awards, but is expected to be fit in time for Saturday, as is Darren Cave, which means that Ulster coach Neil Doak could name an unchanged team for the third match in a row.
After a couple of cameo performances against Ospreys and Edinburgh, international star Donnacha Ryan returned to the starting line-up against Treviso last time and should start alongside Paul O’Connell in the second row against Ulster, but Munster will be without back row Dave O’Callaghan, who tore a ligament playing for Munster A and prop James Cronin who is rehabilitating after a knee operation.
Over the last five seasons, the head-to-head record between these provincial rivals has been fairly even, with Munster holding the edge with six wins to Ulster’s five.
Ulster have won their most significant clash of this period, in the quarter-final of the Heineken Cup of 2012, when they stunned the Thomond Park crowd with a 22-16 victory en route to their first European Cup final in thirteen years.
Ulster also won both of their encounters last season, and when they met Munster for the first time this season, at the end of November, they were aiming to achieve consecutive victories in Limerick for the first time in over twenty years. But it was Munster who prevailed 21-20 after a dramatic game in which Ulster led 12-0 at half-time and missed a last-minute conversion.
Munster are one point ahead in the table and have a better try-scoring record than their opponents, but I fancy the home side to win this one.
Ulster are formidable at the Kingspan Stadium, having won all ten matches there this season.
They also face a much tougher final fixture than Munster, so a victory on Saturday is essential if they are to secure to home advantage in the semi-final, and that extra motivation could give them the edge. Back Ulster in the Match Betting market.
*Prices correct at time of publication